Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens came to the Kansas City area Friday to press for stepped-up efforts against the opioid epidemic.
“... the fact is this problem is affecting our friends and neighbors, affecting people all over the state of Missouri,” the governor said after getting a briefing in Liberty on Clay County’s Veterans Court, which he commended for taking a “thoughtful, informed and clear approach” to the problem.
He said it’s made a difference, helping veterans get back on track as productive and tax-paying citizens.
“Many of them were ashamed to look their own kids in the eye, because of what had happened in their lives,” he said.
The governor also defended his new program, a type of prescription drug database. He’s made appearances around the state to raise awareness and promote his plan.
All but two states – Missouri is one of the two – have systems in which doctors and pharmacists can look at all of a patient’s prescriptions to see who is likely to be “doctor shopping” to score more and more drugs to feed their habit.
Legislation to create such a prescription drug monitoring program, or PDMP, has repeatedly failed in the Missouri General Assembly. In response, Jackson County, Independence, Kansas City and several other local governments across the state have collaborated to set up their own PDMP program.
Greitens last week announced a different approach. He ordered the Department of Health and Senior Services to track and analyze the sale of controlled substances such as oxycodone to identify where they are being inappropriately “prescribed, dispensed or obtained.” That information is to be turned over to law enforcement and professional licensing boards.
The governor says that gets at much of the problem.
“What happens is the addicts know which doctors to go to …” he said.
Local officials last week were highly skeptical, suggesting it turned their idea on its head. Doctors should be the ones who see how many other prescriptions a patient has gotten recently, they say.
Dr. Randall W. Williams, director of the state Department of Health and Senior Services, said under the governor’s plan, the state will use “sophisticated data analytics” to target problem actors.
“It’s very important to understand that what we’re doing is complementary to the voluntary PDMP across the state of Missouri,” Williams said.
He noted that the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the use of mandatory PDMP programs, and he said in Missouri that would take legislative action. He said the Greitens administration has no immediate plans to put such legislation before the General Assembly in 2018, and he suggested it could take a year or so for the governor’s new program to take root and show it effectiveness. Greitens said it could become a model for the nation.
Williams said the voluntary nature of the cities’ and counties’ PDMP program is a drawback because studies have shown that only 13 to 50 percent of doctors use it.
The governor also acknowledged the limitation in his program, that it doesn’t put information in the hands of doctors.
“But keep in mind this is just step one,” he said of his program.
“I realize that there are always going to be critics. … We’re taking strong action to address the opioid crisis here,” he said, adding that many changes are needed to get a grip on the problem.
“We have to get rid of the stigma of addiction,” he said. He described the toll these drugs are taking – two deaths a day in Missouri – and said he lost a cousin to heroin last year.
Experts say what frequently happens is that people become addicted to something like OxyContin and then at some point turn to heroin, which has similar effects and is cheaper and easier to get. Heroin deaths have been on the rise for years.
Greitens also pointed out that state law-enforcement officers will now be carrying Narcan, or naloxone, which reverses the effects of an overdose. In areas around the country hardest hit by opioids, it’s become common for police and others to carry it.
The governor said he took part in a training session for law-enforcement officers last week.
“And they all left with Narcan,” he said, “so we can save lives.”